Nev. Rep's Accuser Alleges Bribe Attempt
Thursday, October 26, 2006; 12:05 AM
LAS VEGAS -- A woman who says she was assaulted and propositioned by a Republican congressman running for Nevada governor said Wednesday she was physically threatened, pressured and offered money to drop her accusations and change her story.
Chrissy Mazzeo, 32, a Las Vegas Strip hotel-casino cocktail waitress, said a friend, Pennie Puhek, who claimed to have connections to Rep. Jim Gibbons' gubernatorial campaign, told her she would be paid if she dropped her accusations and signed a statement changing her account, said Mazzeo's lawyer, Richard Wright.
"There's money in this, you will get money for signing this," Wright accused Puhek of saying Oct. 16. He said a specific dollar amount wasn't mentioned but it was clear the payment would be coming from "the Gibbons party."
Mazzeo said Puhek told her that her life was in danger and "if you don't drop this, Chrissy, they will kill you, your baby and your family."
In a statement, Puhek said she never urged Mazzeo to drop the allegation "for any reason, including money," and described Mazzeo's account as "clearly fabricated."
"I believe she needs to strongly consider seeking professional help," Puhek said.
Gibbons, 61, issued a statement Wednesday saying he did nothing inappropriate and calling the statements by Mazzeo and Wright defamatory and outrageous. He said it was a lie to suggest he or anyone in his campaign "threatened violence or offered money to anyone in an attempt to cover up these allegations."
Mazzeo accused Gibbons of pushing her up against a wall Oct. 13 and propositioning her in a parking garage near a restaurant-bar where they had met earlier in the night. Gibbons, in statements to police and at a news conference with his wife last week, said he walked Mazzeo to the garage, caught her when she tripped and walked away.
Mazzeo said she decided not to press charges the next day, shortly after Gibbons was interviewed by police for the first time. She did not recant her story, but told police she did not want to "go up against" a congressman.
Gibbons' lawyer, Don Campbell, also challenged Mazzeo's account, calling her an "exceedingly troubled young lady." Campbell also described Mazzeo's comments Wednesday as inconsistent with her earlier statements to police, but would not give an example.
Mazzeo said that Puhek told her she was in touch with Gibbons through a legal secretary who shares office space with a top adviser to Gibbons. Puhek and the campaign did not comment other than to deny the accusations.
Mazzeo also said she had been frustrated by the congressman's denials, and by the investigation conducted by Las Vegas police.
"I want the truth to come out," Mazzeo said. She also said she wanted the matter to "go away."
Associated Press writer Brendan Riley in Carson City contributed to this report.